Hydro Thunder Hurricane Review
Game: Hydro Thunder Hurricane
Developer: Vector Unit
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Available on: Xbox Live Arcade
Hydro Thunder, released back in 1999 in arcades and on the SEGA Dreamcast, is a title probably many of you haven’t played or even heard of for that matter. For those of you who do know of it, well, you will know that it was pretty good powerboat arcade racer. Admittedly, this isn’t a “genre” packed full of quality titles (or many titles at all) but, hey, the point is it was a good game. Fast forward to the present day and we finally have a “sequel”. The game is called Hydro Thunder Hurricane and it is being released exclusively on Xbox Live Arcade as part of Microsoft’s “Summer of Arcade” promotion. Almost 11 years on from the original does this “sequel” manage to storm its way to the top or does it get lost in a hurricane? Read on for the full review.
A few seconds after loading up Hydro Thunder Hurricane and hearing the “announcer” shout out the title, you are made aware of the games arcade roots. Other than the aforementioned “announcer”, you also have the “cheesy” music and the easy to navigate menus, something which is almost an unofficial trademark of arcade based titles. The arcade style also crosses over to the visuals, both during actual gameplay and outside it. For the most part, the game uses bright colours (mostly primary ones) to create a welcoming, arcade feel. The in-game visuals are impressive for an XBLA title, the water in particular looks great. The boats themselves are nicely modelled but their textures could of done with some extra work. You can read the text or see the graphics on them fine in the selection menu but in-game they look rather blurred. Apart from that though, everything else has a clean, crisp look to it. Even the courses look great, each one having its own distinct personality thanks to some great visual touches. On some courses there is so much going on (planes flying by, explosions or police boats “chasing” you) yet it doesn’t seem to effect the gameplay at all, everything moves along without even a hint of slowdown.
At first glance Hydro Thunder Hurricane doesn’t seem to offer much in terms of gameplay but once you start playing the game, you realise that is not the case. The main “goal” in the game is to earn credits so you can unlock more content. The catch is though, credits are only earned if you finish in the top three. At first this can only be done on the novice level due to the boats at your disposal but once you earn enough credits to unlock the pro and expert boats the game opens up big time. Using the pro and expert boats not only earns you more credits for a top three finish but events become a lot harder too, especially the expert ones.
In single player, credits are earned through four different events called race, gauntlet, ring master and championship. Race mode is pretty much self explanatory but there is also a certain amount of hidden depth attached to them. Learning the subtleties of a particular boat (how to handle it) or course is usually the key to winning races using the pro and expert boats. You also have the boost (mapped to the A button) and jump (mapped to the X button) mechanics, which might seem quite simplistic at first but it’s all about using them at the right time. The jump mechanic is something that comes in very handy during the gauntlet events. Here you have to race to the finish line within a certain time whilst avoiding exploding barrels littered in the water. Sounds easy, it’s not though!
The third event, ring master, is the most dastardly of all though. You will curse it but you will keep coming back for more. In this event you have to race through rings and get to the finish line within a certain time. Manoeuvre through successive rings and you earn boost which will help you in your cause. However, if you miss one (or several) then you lose the boost and get seconds added on to your overall time. The challenge provided here is not only in trying to get through all the rings but the course itself, even more so than usual. The water in Hydro Thunder Hurricane moves with a certain amount of unpredictability as standard, it definitely doesn’t want to make things easy for you! When you add some massive waves to that unpredictability it makes manoeuvring through the rings rather challenging. Missing a bunch of rings thanks to a wave you didn’t see coming until the last second is mighty frustrating but, as mentioned earlier, you will be back for more.
Finally, we have championship which basically consists of all three of the previously mentioned events in novice, pro or expert. No…really, that is the championship mode in a nutshell. It might not sound like much but there is a lot of content on offer in Hydro Thunder Hurricane. The single player mode alone could keep you going for a while as you try and struggle to get golds in every single event or (more likely) get a top three finish using an expert level boat. The game also supports leaderboards, so as you splash your way through events you can see how your friends are doing and try to beat their times. Let’s face it, no matter what the game, it’s always nice to get one over on your friends. Speaking of friends, Hydro Thunder Hurricane also has a multiplayer mode (offline and online). It consists of two events, race (you know what to expect there) and rubber ducky. Yes, that’s right…..rubber ducky. Basically, it’s Hydro Thunder Hurricane’s take on PGR’s Mini vs Enzo team based multiplayer game. Each team has one person driving a rubber duck (yes, a rubber duck) whilst everyone else drives a fast boat. The goal is to protect your duck, slam the other teams duck and be the first team to get your duck across the finish line. It’s totally as crazy it sounds and a barrel of fun if played with the right set of people.
Following a critically acclaimed title such as LIMBO as the second game in Microsoft’s “Summer of Arcade” promotion was never going to be easy but Hydro Thunder Hurricane manages to do that pretty well. The games difficulty (the jump from novice to pro is quite big) and eight courses might be a turn off for some but for the rest it is a throwback to the quality arcade gaming of yesteryear. What we have here is a highly enjoyable powerboat arcade racer with lots of quality content to offer for its 1200 MS points price tag. A must for fans of the original and (if they can handle the jump in difficulty) a great entry point for newcomers.